When an Administrative Delay is an Abuse of Process

The subject of an unreasonable delay often arises in the immigration context.  In one case that I was previously involved with, an individual was in Canada for 11-years before the Canada Border Services Agency expressed concerns that he might be inadmissible to Canada for previous involvement in a group accused of terrorism.  In another case, an individual who had been in and out of Canada numerous times was suddenly denied entry to Canada because of a criminal conviction that occurred eight years ago.  In both cases, the client asked whether the delay amounted to an abuse of process.

Blencoe v. British Columbia

The leading Supreme Court of Canada decision on this issue is Blencoe v. British Columbia, 2000 SCC 44.  There, three women filed complaints of sexual harassment to the British Columbia Human Rights Council.  Due to delays the tribunal hearings were not resolved for 30 months after the first filing.  The accused challenged that the 30 month delay was an abuse of process, an argument which the Supreme Court of Canada ultimately rejected, and also found that the Charter was not engaged.  Importantly, the Supreme Court found that a state caused delay, without more, does not warrant a stay as an abuse of process at common law, and that there must be significant prejudice to the individual as a result of the delay.

The following principles emerged from Blencoe:

  • The administrative process must be conducted in a manner entirely consistent with the principles of natural justice and procedural fairness.
  • Unreasonable delay is a possible basis on which to raise questions of natural justice, procedural fairness, abuse of process and abuse of discretion.
  • Delay, without more, will not warrant a stay of proceedings as an abuse of process.
  • Administrative delay may impugn the validity of the proceedings where it impairs a party’s ability to answer the complaint against him or her – where memories have faded, essential witnesses are unavailable, or evidence has been lost.
  • Where the fairness of the hearing has not been compromised, delay may nevertheless amount to an abuse of process, but few lengthy delays will meet this threshold.
  • The court must be satisfied that, “the damage to the public interest in the fairness of the administrative process should the proceeding go ahead would exceed the harm to the public interest in the enforcement of the legislation if the proceedings were halted.
  • If the delay has directly caused significant psychological harm to a person, or attached a stigma to a person’s reputation, such that the [administrative] system would be brought into disrepute, such prejudice may be sufficient to constitute an abuse of process.
  • Determination of whether the delay is unreasonable is, in part, a relative exercise in which one compares the length of delay in the case at bar with the length of time normally taken for processing in the same jurisdiction and in other jurisdictions in Canada.

Unreasonable Delays Immigration Context

Beltran v. Canada (2011 FC 516) provides an example of the application of Blencoe in the immigration context.  There, the Canadian Security Intelligence Services determined that an individual was not a threat to Canada’s national interest.  Fourteen years later, without any explanation, and without any explanation, a new security officer expressed concerns, causing further delays in inadmissibility proceedings being commenced.  The court also found that a new investigation caused undue prejudice to Mr. Blencoe.  The Court was also critical of the government’s decision not to reveal certain information that it had kept confidential for twenty years, only to use it later.

In Torre v Canada ( Citizenship and Immigration), 2015 FC 591, the applicant was a permanent resident in Canada, arrested for drug trafficking in 1996. Seventeen years later, in 2013, two inadmissibility reports were prepared and referred to the Immigration Division for an admissibility hearing, which could lead to his removal. The Immigration Division refused to hear the applicant’s motion for a stay of proceedings for unreasonable delay, holding that it lacked jurisdiction to do so.

Upon judicial review, the Federal Court found that the Immigration Division has little discretion to determine whether there was an abuse of process because the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and jurisprudence provide that the Immigration Division hold an admissibility hearing quickly, and if it finds the person inadmissible, it must make a removal order.

In Hassouna v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2017 FC 473 the Federal Court determined that when applying Blencoe to citizenship revocation courts should consider (1) the time taken compared to inherent time requirements, (2) the causes of the delay beyond the inherent time requirements of a matter, and (3) the impact of the delay, including prejudice and other harms.  There, the strain on resources that a 700% increase in citizenship revocation proceedings caused resulted in a delay not being an abuse of process.

S. 11(b) of the Charter

Section 11 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides that any person charged with an offence has the right to be tried within a reasonable time. The Federal Court has ruled, however, that this does not apply to immigration proceedings, and in Montoya v. Canada even ruled that it does not apply to citizenship revocation.


Secret Evidence Used Against Me? (On Extrinsic Evidence) [Updated]

Where immigration officers have extrinsic evidence particular to an applicant, and that applicant is unaware that the immigration officer has that evidence, then procedural fairness requires that immigration officers disclose this evidence to the applicant.
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Addressing Newfoundland Nurses

On December 15, 2011 the Supreme Court of Canada (“Supreme Court“) issues its decision in Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses’ Union v. Newfoundland and Labrador (Treasury Board), 2011 SCC 62, [2011] 3 SCR 708 (“Newfounland Nurses“).

In Newfoundland Nurses, the Supreme Court essentially abolished “adequacy of reasons” as a stand-alone ground for judicial review.  Rather, the Supreme Court stated that an officer’s reasons must be read together with the outcome and serve the purpose of showing whether the result falls within a range of possible outcomes.  The Supreme Court further stated that (citations removed for ease of reading):

Reasons may not include all the arguments, statutory provisions, jurisprudence or other details the reviewing judge would have preferred, but that does not impugn the validity of either the reasons or the result under a reasonableness analysis. A decision-maker is not required to make an explicit finding on each constituent element, however subordinate, leading to its final conclusion. In other words, if the reasons allow the reviewing court to understand why the tribunal made its decision and permit it to determine whether the conclusion is within the range of acceptable outcomes, the Dunsmuir criteria are met.

The fact that there may be an alternative interpretation of the agreement to that provided by the arbitrator does not inevitably lead to the conclusion that the arbitrator’s decision should be set aside if the decision itself is in the realm of reasonable outcomes. Reviewing judges should pay “respectful attention” to the decision-maker’s reasons, and be cautious about substituting their own view of the proper outcome by designating certain omissions in the reasons to be fateful.

As one immigration lawyer put it, the Department of Justice (the “DOJ“) has since argued that under the Newfoundland Nurses reasonableness standard the Federal Court must uphold a tribunal’s decision as long as it falls within the most extremely close to unreasonable range of possibilities that the most extreme officer dictates.  In one case of mine, the DOJ even argued that there could basically be no reasons so long as the Federal Court thought that the decision was a possibly correct one that the tribunal could reach.  But is this really the case?

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Staying Removal at Federal Court

The Federal Court of Canada can provide interlocutory stays, including staying removal.

There is a three-stage test to be applied when considering an application for an interlocutory injunction.

A court must determine that there is a serious issue or question to be tried, that the applicant would suffer irreparable harm if the injunction were to be refused, and that the balance of convenience (assessed by examining which of the parties will suffer the greater harm from granting or refusing the injunction) rests with the applicant.

As well, it is important to note that a stay of removal is an equitable remedy that is typically only available to an individual who has not committed an inequity.

Irreparable Harm

The Supreme Court of Canada describes ‘irreparable harm’ as follow:

“Irreparable” refers to the nature of the harm suffered rather than its magnitude.  It is harm which either cannot be quantified in monetary terms or which cannot be cured, usually because one party cannot collect damages from the other.

In other words, harm which can be avoided, or if unavoidable can be cured, is not irreparable harm.

Irreparable harm is often the deciding factor in an interlocutory motion.  In British Columbia Civil Liberties Association v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), for example, the Federal Court found that there was no irreparable harm for Canadian citizens facing loss of their citizenship. The reason for this was because there was (and as of writing is) currently a consolidated Federal Court proceeding through which anyone who files an Application for Leave to Commence Judicial Review will receive an automatic stay.  As Justice Zinn noted:

Here, as the Moving Parties admit, the harm to anyone in receipt of a Notice of Intent to Revoke Citizenship is avoidable. They need merely file an application to this Court for leave and judicial review of that revocation notice and they are granted an automatic stay. To date, many have done so.

If now or in the future there are persons in receipt of a Notice of Intent to Revoke Citizenship who through ignorance or lack of resources fail to challenge that decision in this Court, does that change the harm from an avoidable one to an unavoidable one? I think not.



Mootness

The doctrine of mootness is an aspect of a general policy that a court may decline to decide a case which raises merely a hypothetical or abstract question. It applies when the decision of a court will not have the effect of resolving a live controversy which affects or may affect the rights of the parties.
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Asking the Embassy to Re-Consider an Application

Once a decision has been rendered in relation to an application for a humanitarian and compassionate exemption, is the ability of the decision-maker to reopen or reconsider the application on the basis of further evidence provided by an applicant limited by the doctrine of functus officio?
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